After hunting for Easter eggs when I was six years old my parents outdid the Bunny with a surprise my brother and I were not expecting: a staycation in Ellsworth, Maine.
This wasn’t the first time I had stayed at a motel (we had driven to Florida once before to see grandparents) but it was the first time that I had spontaneously stayed at a motel. As in, grab your foiled eggs, pile in the Mercury Sable, the time is now.
At that point, it didn’t matter where we were going. But does it ever?
Up until that Easter, Ellsworth had always been a sort of halfway point between Levant, where I grew up, and the destination of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
Ellsworth was a quick-stop town, the place we stretched our legs and spent our allowance at the strip mall. In fact, Ellsworth instilled a sense of appreciation for the strip mall when I began to travel and live farther away as an adult, a slice of home in every corner of the world.
Now, as a travel writer, I’ve stayed in resorts and luxury hotels around the globe. But every year when Easter approaches, I think about that April in 1990. The only reason I know the year is because my brother remembers seeing the Ninja Turtles movie at the theater in Ellsworth during our stay. Google took it from there.
The unplanned is what makes me feel most alive. I didn’t realize until this year’s reminiscing came around that it very well could’ve been that Sunday 22 years ago that defined my desire for the unknown.
Travel doesn’t have to take us to far away jaunts to leave an impact. It simply has to take us away from what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s never the destination we fall in love with, but who we are while visiting such a place. We are present, connected, ready to absorb. Maybe even, spontaneous.
In 2018, after years of wondering how one becomes a travel writer, I saw the opportunity to fly to the Caribbean island of Nevis for their annual mango festival. The invited writer was pregnant and advised at the last minute not to fly by her doctor, which meant she needed a replacement. The catch? The trip was in two days and over Fourth of July, a time when many Mainers (like me) travel that dirt road leading to camp for some family time.
My daughter, 9 at the time, looked at me and said “Mom, you have to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” I sent my portfolio, which didn’t have travel clips but did have articles in other sections of well-known newspapers and magazines.
Turns out, that once-in-a-lifetime became the norm (though, usually, with a bit more notice than that Nevis trip).
Something I wanted to be mindful of as I traveled was not just bouncing from experience to experience simply for the sake of writing a story or snapping a photo or adding a checkmark to my bucket list. Sometimes, this was harder than I anticipated. So I began to take more time between trips, enough to let each one simmer when I returned home.
Without knowing it until now, I wanted the nostalgia from each place to be this slow drip of nostalgia that I think about each year, not because social media brings up photos from that day as a reminder, but because, like that Easter in Ellsworth, the adventure ignites any embers into a full roaring burn.
As much as travel leads us to pause from “reality” while we are enjoying a vacation, one of the greatest souvenirs our journey can provide is the pause that happens after. Maybe even years after. These memories are the real souvenirs. The ones that follow us no matter how far from home we trek. The trips that keep on living. The reason we travel.